How to Build and Install Tile Countertops

  • 8-16 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 150-600
What You'll Need
.75-inch plywood
.25-inch cement backboard
Quick-set mortar
Tile grout
Tile spacers
Tile and grout sealer
Tile sponges
Grout float
Circular saw
Wet saw
4-foot level
.25-inch tile trowel
Fiberglass mesh tape

Tile countertops add a sturdy and easy-to-clean surface to any kitchen or bathroom. Tiles are very attractive and come in a wide variety of designs and styles. Installing a tile countertop yourself is a great DIY project. Follow these steps to build and install tile countertops.

Measuring and Preparing

Start by carefully measuring the area where the countertop will be installed. Most countertops have a standard depth of 25-inches, but your cabinets may be slightly taller or shorter. Make sure to measure down the outside frame of the cabinet.

Continue measuring the entire area to determine how many tiles the job will require. If you are not sure how to calculate the number of tiles, consult a flooring expert at a large hardware store.

Attaching the Counter Base

Using the measurements from the depth and length of your cabinets, cut pieces of plywood to cover the cabinet top. Ensure that the plywood is perfectly flat and level on the top of the cabinet. Then screw the plywood to the top of the cabinet. Make sure that the factory (or good) side of the wood is facing upward. Once you have screwed the plywood base to the top of the cabinet, use your level and shims to level out the base.

Install the Backboard and Prepare to Tile

Use a .25-inch tile trowel to spread a thin coat of quickset mortar onto the plywood. Spread the mortar evenly and don't make it too thick.

Next, screw the backboard to the plywood using 1.25-inch cement screws; space the screws evenly about every 8-inches. Cut strips of backboard to match the edge size of the plywood, and repeat the same process for the edges as you performed on the top.

Apply another thin layer of quick-set mortar to all areas where backboard has been installed. Allow it to dry for 4 hours.

Installing the Tiles

Spread more quick-set mortar on the cabinet and begin placing your tiles. Spread just enough mortar mix to help hold the tiles into place, and make sure not to spread too much mix at any one time. Spread just enough so that it will still be wet when you place a tile in that spot.

Use your wet saw to cut tiles into sections where smaller pieces are needed. Once you have laid all the tiles for the countertop, repeat the process for the backsplash area of the counter. Always ensure that your tiles are generally level and have equal spacing in the gaps between them. Use the tile and grout spacers to keep them even.

Grouting and Cleaning

Mix the grout according to the instructions on the package. Then use the grout float to gently push it into the gaps and crevices between the tiles. Don’t go too fast and work in small areas. Use a clean sponge and water to wipe away excess grout that might land on the top of the tiles. Continue applying the grout to the entire countertop and backsplash, and allow the countertop to dry.

Once the countertop has dried, take your sponge and apply the grout sealer as per the manufacturer's instructions. Repeat the grout sealing process 2 or more times as needed.

Install Your Sink

Install your sink into the countertop according to the manufacturer's instructions.